The rise and fall of Patrick Doherty | Inside Politics

Bob Roegner - Contributed
Bob Roegner
— image credit: Contributed

Patrick Doherty’s career in Federal Way City Hall started about 15 years ago. However, it has been in the last four years that he has become the most visible face of city government.

First, he was head of Economic Development, then Community Development was added and finally he completed his portfolio by leading the effort to pass the Performing Arts and Conference Center. He held sway over so much of the civilian influence in city government that he seemed to have his own political constituency in Performing Arts and Conference Center supporters, senior Council members and some development interests.

But while the rise of Doherty’s career took 15 years, its decline has taken less than six months as Mayor Jim Ferrell seeks to reshape his administration and the community. Doherty has been assigned to special projects and will work remotely. It is unlikely he will return.

As director of Economic Development, he worked with the business community and development interests to bring jobs to the city. It is not an easy assignment and is frequently subject to being second guessed.

During the 2010 mayoral election, both Skip Priest and Jim Ferrell promised more action on producing jobs for the community. After Priest’s victory, some City Hall followers felt certain that Doherty would be gone within the first month. Not only wasn’t he fired, he convinced the frugal Priest to combine his job with the Community Development director, since incumbent Greg Fewins was retiring.

That would save the city a director’s salary, but it also worried some who were concerned about having both the development and regulatory authority controlled by the same person. They are frequently kept separate to ensure a check and balance on how much “deal making” can occur.

Ethical worries aside, Doherty’s time for these two major responsibilities would become minimal, as Priest elevated his interest in the Performing Arts and Conference Center, which became Doherty’s prime public vehicle.

Doherty is smart and articulate and seemed tailor-made for the project. However, he received a significant amount of criticism as the public challenged the cost and the priority of the Performing Arts and Conference Center compared to other city needs.

At the same time, Doherty was also getting pointed comments from business leaders who were dissatisfied with the city’s economic development efforts. They noted that several businesses left town or sparred with city government over regulations. Some business leaders were shocked to learn that City Hall was unaware a local, high profile business had actually relocated to another town.

The Performing Arts and Conference Center and the city’s economic development efforts also took center stage in the 2013 mayoral rematch between Priest and Ferrell. Priest, as the incumbent, defended the Performing Arts and Conference Center and economic development, and by extension Doherty’s efforts, while Ferrell attacked the same issues and suggested more could be done.

Again, many City Hall watchers expected Doherty to be among the first to leave city government after Ferrell’s win. As he had before, Doherty confounded parties who wanted him gone and survived. Ferrell switched sides on the Performing Arts and Conference Center issue and needed Doherty to help push the project through to passage by the City Council. Doherty’s credibility with some Council members and key Performing Arts and Conference Center supporters was crucial.

But, while the city administration pushed for approval of the Performing Arts and Conference Center, changes that would end Doherty’s career in Federal Way were already underway. First, Ferrell separated the Economic Development directorship from Doherty and started looking for someone who could concentrate on that agenda full-time.

Interviews are currently in progress. Secondly, after the Council passed the Performing Arts and Conference Center and it moved from conceptual planning to the pre-construction phase, a different leadership team would be needed. Doherty would not be part of that effort.

Doherty was trying to fill the jobs of three people and that is an unfair expectation. It is also a recipe for failure. But Doherty didn’t fail so much as he focused his efforts on getting the Performing Arts and Conference Center approved, which is what both Priest and Ferrell wanted. In doing that he left a lot of ground uncovered and ripe for dissent.

When the tax credit plan to help pay for the project wasn’t funded by the federal government in this cycle, that may have been the last straw, as local expectations were high. It may or may not be funded in the future but the lack of federal support made it feel like a failure and it was Doherty’s issue. Spin control efforts by the city to downplay the issue seemed weak. It is likely Doherty knew his support in city government was slipping as he is a finalist for a job in Edmonds.

If the Performing Arts and Conference Center is eventually built, Doherty should get a significant amount of credit. If the financial plan, which now appears fragile, continues to have problems, he should get some of the blame as well. Although, in either event many others will share the outcome.

The surprise isn’t that Doherty is leaving, but that he survived this long with so much on his plate.

Bob Roegner, a former mayor of Auburn: bjroegner@comcast.net.


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